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In Re Dieter





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOSEPH SCHNEIDER, Judge, presiding.


This appeal arises from an order finding the respondent, Linda Dieter, in need of mental treatment and ordering her commitment to the Department of Mental Health, John Madden Center. Respondent contends on appeal that she was not proved to be in need of mental treatment since there was no factual basis for the diagnosis of mental illness or for a prediction of dangerousness.

The record discloses that petition for hospitalization and an attached certificate of need for hospitalization was filed on November 23, 1975, seeking the emergency admission of the respondent as a person in need of mental treatment under section 7-1 of the Mental Health Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 91 1/2, par. 7-1). The certificate of hospitalization was filed by a licensed physician stating that the respondent appeared suicidal and withdrawn and that she had intentionally cut both wrists. Two further certificates of need for hospitalization were subsequently filed by licensed psychiatrists, also noting that respondent had cut her wrists.

Respondent waived her right to demand a jury. At the hearing, the State presented as its primary witness, Dr. Hector Munoz, a staff psychiatrist employed by the Illinois Department of Mental Health, who had practiced psychiatry for approximately seven years. He testified that he had had three psychiatric interviews with the respondent in which there was little communication by her; there were only a few times that she answered any questions verbally and she responded to some questions by nodding her head positively or negatively. The respondent told Dr. Munoz that she had a roommate and that she had been brought to the hospital against her will. She did not mention any of the precipitating facts or circumstances surrounding her hospitalization, but repeatedly stated that she was all right, that she wanted to go home and that she planned on going back to work.

On the basis of these interviews, Dr. Munoz formulated an opinion that the respondent's judgment and awareness of her problem were impaired. He further testified that he did not know how the respondent's memory and thinking process were, but that "they looked like they were coherent and relevant to my questions." However, he added that her "kind of solemn attitude" made it difficult to relate to her in an adult way.

Dr. Munoz testified that the respondent had initially been admitted to a hospital for wrist wounds. According to the treating physician's report, these wounds were "superficial" and did not require stitches. Dr. Munoz did not personally observe these wounds since the respondent's wrists were covered by two dressings and handcuffs.

Dr. Munoz concluded that the respondent suffered from a depressive neurosis and recommended hospitalization. He also stated that he could not give the specific reasons for his opinion until the respondent answered more of his questions. When asked whether it was reasonable to assume that the respondent would reasonably be expected to intentionally or unintentionally harm herself if she were released, he replied "more likely than not," but he gave no specific facts or reasons for that opinion.

On cross-examination, Dr. Munoz testified that it was his understanding that the respondent had never previously been a patient in a mental hospital. He further stated that the respondent denied slashing her wrists, but offered no explanation concerning the cause of her wounds.

The State then called the respondent, Linda Dieter, as a witness pursuant to section 60 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110, par. 60). The respondent testified that she was 21 years old. She further testified that she was brought to Madden in an ambulance. Her girl friend had called the police because she thought the respondent was trying to kill herself. The respondent stated that she received the scratches on her wrists while playing with her cat(s); she didn't know why her girl friend got any other impression. Respondent further testified that her wrists did not bleed. There was no direct evidence presented to controvert the respondent's testimony.

The Mental Health Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 91 1/2, par. 1-11), defines persons "in need of mental treatment" as:

"* * * any person afflicted with a mental disorder * * * if that person, as a result of such mental disorder, is reasonably expected at the time the determination is being made or within a reasonable time thereafter to intentionally or unintentionally physically injure himself or other persons, or is unable to care for himself so as to guard himself from physical injury to provide for his own physical needs. * * *"

• 1, 2 In determining the required standard of proof to commit an individual, our court has stated that it is impermissible for an individual to be committed upon "no higher standard of proof than applies in a negligence case." (People v. Sansone (1st Dist. 1974), 18 Ill. App.3d 315, 326, 309 N.E.2d 733.) More recently our supreme court in In re Stephenson (1977), 67 Ill.2d 544, 554-56, 367 N.E.2d 1273, reiterated that clear and convincing was the standard of proof further expounded upon the rationale underlying this standard wherein it stated:

"* * * More to the point, we believe, is an appraisal of the interests of the allegedly mentally ill individual and the society of which he is a part. Those interests are, in part, competing.

The fundamental liberty interest of the person facing commitment is self-evident. The Mental Health Code * * * reflects a concern for that interest and * * * represents a serious attempt to provide beneficial treatment and care for the mentally ill with minimum ostracism and confinement consistent with protection of the public. Our free society's interest in prospectively protecting itself from dangerous or harmful conduct, ...

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